I spoke with "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" project lead Haden Blackman late last week about the game's newly-announced autumn downloadable content of new player characters and a bonus Jedi Temple level.
A few things came up that hadn't made the press release that I believe are important for gamers to know, since they show how LucasArts is handling its DLC differently than many other publishers and developers:
The New Level Stands Alone: Players will access the new Jedi Temple level through the game's main menu and will not be able to use the character they controlled in the campaign. To compensate, the developers are giving players a pool of Force points, so they can spec a new character just for the extra mission. (This is a different approach than the one taken by BioWare, which required players to proceed a couple of hours into "Mass Effect" before being able to visit the new planets introduced in that game's "Bring Down the Sky" DLC pack.)
The Game's New Level Is Actually New: As publishers and developers have embraced the idea of DLC, we've also seen them embrace the idea of faking DLC by locking content on the discs we buy and charging people to download a key to access that content. That approach merely creates the illusion that new content is being downloaded after a game's release, when it's really being unlocked on something that shipped weeks earlier. Thankfully, that's not the case with the new "Star Wars" Jedi Temple level being offered to Xbox 360 and PS3 owners. Blackman told me: "We waited until we were in submission [to the console manufacturers] on the core product…then we had the conversation internally about whether it made sense to downloadable content."
That means that not only is the Jedi Temple level not already on gamers' discs, but that it was designed in mid-Summer with the benefit of knowledge gained by making the full "Force Unleashed" game. "As we went through the development process on 'The Force Unleashed' we learned a lot of things, as we do with all games," Blackman said. And were able to apply those to the Jedi Temple [level]." He said the team is actually trying "new things" with the Jedi Temple level. "We knew the two or three we want to try with something like this."
Despite what you've heard, you haven't seen the level before. The Jedi Temple level is not featured in "The Force Unleashed" novel or comic book. It's also not the same as the Jedi Temple level in the Krome-developed PS2, PSP and Wii versions. It was one of three locations considered for a DLC level. An idea that almost made the cut was the Coruscant Senate Chamber. Throwing all those chairs would have been fun, Blackman noted. He described the new level as "highly destructive, very iconic and fun to build."
The New Characters Are Skins: The announced DLC of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and other characters -- as well as bonus Dark Apprentice costumes -- are all going to be skins for the existing player-protagonist. So when you play as Luke, he'll hold his lightsaber the way the Dark Apprentice does. He'll animate like the Dark Apprentice.
No 'Soul Calibur' Reciprocity: The DLC characters will all be from "Star Wars" lore. None will be from "Soul Calibur," even though the Dark Apprentice, Yoda and Darth Vader all showed up in "Soul Calibur IV" earlier this year. Blackman said that there are still more "Star Wars" DLC characters to be announced: "We held back some that hopefully people will be excited about."
This Is But A Grand Experiment: I asked Blackman why LucasArts would greenlight a downloadable level, offering motivations as disparate as creative freedom to discouraging new owners of the game from trading it in. His response highlighted an altogether different motivation: 'From a company standpoint we're really interested in downloadable content. We want to find ways to make that work for us and build games around it… This is one of the biggest things we've ever done in terms of downloadable content. It's a chance for us to experiment a little bit, to see what works and what doesn't and to be able to apply those learnings to future games.
"It's also a chance for the team to hone their skills and … allows us to start gathering metrics in the event that we do a sequel or want to do more levels. It gives us the ability to really figure out those metrics and say okay. It's really hard to take the data from working on the initial product whenever you're building a game with a lot of tech and building it from the ground up, because so much of it is evolving together. So much of it is iterative. And with this particular process, because we know the tech, because we know how to design one of these levels and what it really works, it's much easier to get clear metrics. How much time does it take for an artist to light a level? How much does it take to build geometry for a level? It's a really good information-gathering tool. And this, quite frankly, was also something the team wanted to do."
Hmm. Anyone want them to use that knowledge for a DLC-based "Force Unleashed" episodic gaming series?
No price has been issued for the DLC for "The Force Unleashed." The content is slated for release this fall. We'll keep you posted as we learn more.